[Julyan Nutt, Michael Marshall, Yoko Kurahashi, & Manabu Miyata. Tokyo: Sanshusha, 2019. pp. vi + 116. ¥2,090. ISBN: 978-4-384-33491-3 C1082.]
The current Get by in English series is composed of four textbooks (starter, elementary, pre-intermediate, and intermediate) designed specifically for non-English major Japanese university students. In the past, I have used Get by in English 1: Starter as the foundation of English communication courses for Japanese university students, most of whom were sports majors and had a limited command of conversational English. The first textbook in the series has proven to be a flexible and accessible refresher course for these students, as it covers familiar grammar such as simple present, adverbs of frequency, prepositions, and imperatives. Additionally, the authors use Japanese to clarify instructions and provide thorough explanations of grammar patterns. This feature promotes learner autonomy by allowing students to work through specific sections on their own. If used actively according to the aims of the authors, learners should greatly benefit from the contents of this series.
Get by in English 1: Starter begins with an introductory unit meant to set the tone for the course by helping students acclimate to classroom English. It is essentially a brief tutorial of how the teacher may choose to format and conduct the classes over 15 hours (or 10 90-minute classes), with several exercises geared toward general questions, asking for clarification, and teacher-student interaction. From there on, the textbook is organized into six main units, with a review unit placed between units three and four, and again after unit six. These review units conveniently include interview test questions that the teacher can use as a form of assessment. There are two glossaries available with both English and Japanese terms, one of which is a glossary for reception (understanding) and another for production (speaking). Audio files are also accessible online via streaming and downloads.
The textbook follows a functional approach to syllabus design, with clearly defined functions as the theme for each unit (e.g., introductions, describing family, asking for and giving directions). Each unit integrates the four basic language skills through activities such as model conversations, roleplays, grammar exercises, personalized speeches, pair dictations, and discussion. These activities work to consolidate each preceding section, highlighting a balanced presence of both interactional and transactional functions of practical, everyday English. Interactional functions are “concerned with maintaining social interaction,” while transactional functions are about “carrying out real-world information-focused functions” (Richards, 2017, p. 204).
Each unit tends to be centered on conversations between students of similar social and cultural backgrounds, as well as on ways to convey information. Teachers who wish to strengthen students’ intercultural communication skills should consider supplementing the textbook with other authentic materials. In my classroom experiences, this has been achieved by including media such as relevant video clips from YouTube or the participation of international students. Teachers can also approach the model conversations available in the textbook in a way that focuses on interactional competence. Barraja-Rohan’s (2011) study of conversational analysis emphasizes the importance of understanding “how conversationalists achieve order and social organization” (p. 480) by focusing on aspects such as turn-taking. In particular, the students in the study focused on the communicative aspects of their interactions, such as co-constructing, over accuracy. The model conversations and roleplay in the textbook are among some of the most useful exercises in conversational analysis, with the authors organizing conversations into basic patterns while providing a chart of substitutions that students can experiment with. Students in my classes appreciated the straightforward structure of these activities, which provided solid examples that often led to increasingly creative output as we progressed through the units.
When considering the nature of English language usage among the non-English major postsecondary students that I have taught, I would certainly define a majority of them as needing to study to get by communicatively. Many students are required to take English communication classes and build general interactional skills, while others may require specific skills for transactional purposes, such as short-term travel abroad. The textbook balances both interactional and transactional competencies with room for customization, which allows the content to reach a wider target audience.
If you are looking for a foundational text for a communicative English course, Get by in English 1: Starter would be an effective resource, which even includes opportunities for formative and summative assessment. Each unit gives students the chance to revisit key vocabulary and grammar, which allows for mastery of basic phrases. Although the content might be a bit simple for more advanced language learners, the openness of the selected topics and functions means that supplementary materials can be easily incorporated.
Barraja-Rohan, A.-M. (2011). Using conversation analysis in the second language classroom to teach interactional competence. Language Teaching Research, 15(4), 479-507. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1362168811412878
Richards, J. C. (2017). Curriculum development in language teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009024556